An enthusiastic gardener can tell you what it takes to grow a sprout. Good earth, plentiful water, and sunshine will coax a healthy plant. But nurturing strong growth in a child requires more -- it requires special care. And special loving care is one commodity that Cedaredge's Little Sprouts Community Preschool has in abundance.

Since 1995 when one director, one teacher, and a dozen children gathered in a church basement; through 2003 when they moved to their own building; and on to their current crop of six professionals and 43 children, the Little Sprouts community-based preschool has continued to prosper. Though the school is located in Cedaredge, it serves other communities enrolling students from thirty-eight families that live throughout Delta County.

Jim Hatheway, who serves as chairman of the preschool's volunteer board of directors, emphasizes that the school strives to "support the community that supports us." Community involvement is an integral part of the school's efforts to support families by promoting early childhood learning. For more than two decades the school has received support from the community and has also given back to the community they serve.

The nearby Cedaredge Community United Methodist Church, where the preschool was born and where it spent its formative years, has been an essential source of support. Although the preschool is not directly affiliated with the church, the Methodists have been generous neighbors, allowing Little Sprouts -- which owns its building -- to lease land at a favorable rate and occasionally opening the church basement and sanctuary for preschool events. The United Methodist Women's group also assists with financial support and school programs including a cooking class and the church helps with maintenance and playground improvements.

The larger community has also been supportive. A high school student comes in every month to provide Spanish lessons and Eagle Scouts from local Troop 482 are working on two infrastructure projects to construct a storage shed and replace an access ramp. The Cedaredge Public Library folks visit once a month to read stories and do activities with the children. Local firefighters and police officers present programs; veterinarians and dentists and other professionals visit to acquaint students with their work; and parents and grandparents assist with activities.

The preschool charges tuition but they also provide scholarships as needed. Scholarships are supported by public funding and private contributions. About 40 percent of the school's funding comes from tuition. Grants and community contributions provide 30 percent. And state funds administered through the Colorado Preschool Program and Colorado Child Find supply the remaining 30 percent. Child Find also provides speech and language and occupational therapy at the preschool.

Little Sprouts sponsors two major fund-raising events each year. In April, as part of the school's healthy living curriculum, students take part in a "fun run" with area businesses sponsoring children who run laps on a nearby school track. This year's run will be held on April 26 and the school thanks all their current sponsors and welcomes new and returning sponsors to sign up for next year. In December a holiday "Cookie Walk" encourages community members to purchase homemade cookies and baked goods created by preschool families. The cookie event is augmented by a silent auction featuring items and services donated by the community. The school is currently accepting donations for the December event.

The children also get involved in giving back to their community with annual efforts to collect pennies, coats and canned goods. Children and families fill buckets with pennies and other change and, when full, the buckets are dumped into a local bank's change machine and the funds are donated to local charities. Coats are collected and shared with needy individuals and each Thanksgiving, children and families collect canned goods which the children carry downtown to donate to the Surface Creek Food Bank.

But for all their community-related activities, Little Sprouts board chairman Hatheway and Lora Ely, preschool director, emphasize that the school's greatest assets in educating and enriching the lives of children are supportive parents and a dedicated staff. Parents serve on the board of directors, contribute their time and money in fund-raising efforts, and serve as enthusiastic recruiters. Family loyalty and word-of-mouth are invaluable sources of enrollment. Several sets of siblings have attended Little Sprouts and former students who have grown up and become parents themselves return to enroll their children.

Though it is a challenge to sustain deserving salaries for early childhood instructors, Little Sprouts has been fortunate to maintain a staff of dedicated teachers. Amanda Barks, Kristin Hatheway, and Susan VanScoyk serve as lead teachers. April Bennett is the school's teaching assistant and Lisa Wright serves as substitute teacher. In addition to chairman Hatheway, the volunteer board of directors includes parents Annie Olson and Jessica Medrano; and community members Carolyn Stumpf, Dorothy Jean Mergelman and Trey and Mitchell Gronenthal.

The private nonprofit school is located at 210 NW 3rd Street in Cedaredge. It operates from August to May and maintains a calendar similar to the Delta County public schools. It offers a preschool curriculum for three to four-year-olds as well as a pre-kindergarten curriculum for four to five-year-olds who are going to kindergarten the following year. The school is in session from Monday through Thursday and students can attend either an 8 to 11 a.m. morning session, or a noon to 3 p.m. afternoon session. Activities balance structured learning time with free play. During structured time, teachers lead lessons in literacy, math, handwriting, art, science, and music and movement. During free play children gain social skills and learn to make choices. Depending on the weather, free play takes place inside or on the school's well-equipped playground.

One unique aspect of Little Sprouts that sets it apart from other preschools is the school's emphasis on healthy living. Little Sprouts provides healthy snacks and teaches children about good nutrition. Their "farm to school" philosophy includes having the children grow their own potted tomatoes which they consume at snack time and supplementing school-grown food with other fresh fruits and vegetables.

The preschool's community involvement, its healthy initiatives, and its emphasis on learning have earned Little Sprouts an above average level 4 "Colorado Shines" quality ranking. The Colorado Office of Early Childhood evaluates and rates state childcare and preschool programs and assigns rankings with level 5 being the highest level.

Community businesses or individuals wishing to donate time or funds to the school and parents wishing to enroll their children should contact Little Sprouts at 970-856-4648 or visit their website:

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